MADISON, Wis. — A judge ruled Friday that prosecutors can’t argue that a man who shot three people during a protest against police brutality in Wisconsin is affiliated with the Proud Boys or that he attacked a woman months before the shootings, bolstering his position as he prepares for a politically charged trial.
Kyle Rittenhouse is set to stand trial beginning Nov. 1 on multiple counts, including homicide. The 18-year-old argues he opened fire in self-defense after the men attacked him. Prosecutors say they have infrared video from an FBI surveillance plane that shows Rittenhouse followed and confronted the first man he shot.
Kenosha was in the throes of several nights of chaotic demonstrations after a white police officer shot Jacob Blake, a Black man who was paralyzed from the waist down. Rittenhouse traveled from his home in Antioch, Illinois, about 20 miles (32 kilometers) to Kenosha on Aug. 25, 2020, in response to a call on social media to protect businesses there.
Rittenhouse shot Joseph Rosenbaum, Anthony Huber and Gaige Grosskreutz with an AR-style semiautomatic rifle, killing Rosenbaum and Huber and wounding Grosskreutz. Conservatives across the country have rallied around Rittenhouse, raising $2 million to cover his bail. Black Lives Matter supporters have painted him as a trigger-happy racist.
During a hearing Friday on several motions, Assistant District Attorney Thomas Binger asked to argue at trial that Rittenhouse subscribes to the Proud Boys’ white supremacist philosophies and violent tactics. Binger pointed out that Rittenhouse was seen at a bar with members of the white nationalist group’s Wisconsin chapter in January and traveled to Miami days later to meet the group’s national president.
Binger also asked the judge to allow evidence that Rittenhouse attacked a woman in June 2020 as she was fighting his sister. He also wants to show jurors video from 15 days before the shootings in which Rittenhouse said he would like to shoot some men he thought were shoplifting from a pharmacy.
Binger said Rittenhouse’s affiliation with the Proud Boys, the fight and the video show Rittenhouse’s propensity toward violence. He described Rittenhouse as a “chaos tourist” and “teenage vigilante” who came to Kenosha looking for trouble.
Rittenhouse attorney Corey Chirafisi countered that none of the events are relevant to the shootings. Nothing shows Rittenhouse was connected to the Proud Boys on the night of the protest or that the shootings were racially motivated, Chirafisi said, pointing out that Rittenhouse and the men he shot were white.
Kenosha County Circuit Judge Bruce Schroeder agreed with the defense about the June fight and interactions Rittenhouse has had with the Proud Boys. He deferred a decision on the pharmacy video but said he was inclined to exclude it.
It was during discussion about that video that Binger said prosecutors have infrared surveillance footage that he said shows Rittenhouse chasing Rosenbaum, who was the first person Rittenhouse shot.
Rittenhouse attorney Mark Richards maintained it was Rosenbaum who started chasing Rittenhouse, yelling out, “Kill him!” He said Rosenbaum cornered Rittenhouse in front of a row of cars in a parking lot and threw a bag at him before trying to grab Rittenhouse’s gun.
Binger said the surveillance footage shows Rittenhouse chasing Rosenbaum with a fire extinguisher before Rosenbaum turned to confront him. Binger said Rosenbaum was probably trying to push the barrel of Rittenhouse’s rifle away.
After Rittenhouse shot Rosenbaum, people in the streets began chasing him. Video from the night of the protests shows Rittenhouse shot Huber after Huber hit him with a skateboard and tried to grab his gun. Grosskreutz then approached Rittenhouse with a gun and Rittenhouse shot him.
Schroeder denied a defense request to argue that Rosenbaum was trying to steal Rittenhouse’s rifle because Rosenbaum was a sex offender and couldn’t legally possess a firearm.
He delayed ruling on defense requests to dismiss a charge that Rittenhouse possessed his gun illegally because he was a minor and to allow testimony from an expert on police use-of-force. He set another hearing for Oct. 5.